Friday, January 20, 2006

A look at tomorrow’s challenges for POU/POE dealers

DBPs, pipe scale will present treatment opportunities.


By Roy Bowers

From the January 2005 edition of Water Technology magazine.

According to the United Nations, more than half of the world’s population now has water piped into their homes — a humbling fact for many of us who have taken tap water for granted our entire lives.

But getting water to homes is only one part of the equation. We, as water treatment professionals, now need to ask ourselves about any health or safety issues that may be presented by the tap water being delivered to our customers.

More than 80 percent of the United States population is served by municipal water, and the most common disinfection methods are chlorine, chloramines, chlorine-dioxide, and ozone.

There is no question that disinfection is necessary and has saved many lives. In fact, people became used to the taste of chlorine and municipal water was branded safe for human consumption — even, in some cases, unfiltered tap water.

But recent research and water-related controversies have forced the municipal water and POU/POE industries to take a second look at issues that, in some cases, are presented by tap water that has been labeled safe for human consumption.

The challenge of DBPs

In 1974, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act, which includes limits on chlorine disinfection byproducts (DBPs) called trihalomethanes (chemicals created by mixing chlorine and organic matter). At first there were a few different byproducts that were discovered and classified as carcinogens (cancer causing).

To date, these DBPs are regulated by the EPA in all municipal water in the country.

However, in March 2004 the EPA released a report stating that 200 new DBPs have been discovered, bringing the total to 500.

A new family of DBPs

In August 2004, a new study at Texas University reported the discovery of a chain of DBPs created by chloramines, a commonly used disinfectant that is a blend of chlorine and ammonia.

In September 2004, a study at the University of Illinois reported on five chloramines’ DBPs called “iodoacids,” which may be the most toxic family of DBP’s to date. Chloramines has been marketed as an alternative to chlorine and conventional wisdom had dictated that they produced fewer (or safer) levels of DBPs. This conventional wisdom is now being brought into question.

Some 600 DBP’s have been identified to date. Approximately 50 percent of DBP’s have been identified in chlorine treated water; 17 percent occurring in chloramines treated water; 28 percent in water treated with chlorine-dioxide; and just 8 percent in ozone-treated water.

Municipalities continue to state that their water is safe because it meets DBP limits set by the EPA, but the problem is that the EPA is only regulating a few of the 600 DBPs discovered.

Challenges for water treatment dealers

Clearly, many consumers are going to be justifiably concerned about levels of DBPs in their water. The conventional method of treating the water has been to install a POU system.

However, research shows that showering or bathing in untreated municipal water that may be high in DBPs can be more risky than drinking the water.

Clearly, the water treatment dealer’s challenge of tomorrow is going to be to implement solutions that treat DBPs at a whole-house level or in a way that protects all of a consumer’s potential exposure.

Pipe scale: A danger being brought to light

In February 2004, the EPA reported that scale and film in pipes can leach high levels of contaminants into the water being served to users. This can lead to significant spikes in contaminant levels.

An EPA researcher reported that scales in household plumbing could literally cause the home’s water pipe system to exceed the federal government’s toxicity characterization leaching procedure (TCLP) limits, making those deposits, by definition, hazardous.

The Water Quality Association (WQA) urges more research and suggests the use of POU/POE water treatment.

Diversifying beyond softening

Ion exchange salt water softeners have been extremely well marketed for over a generation. In fact, the water treatment industry originally sprung up around regions of the country that have hard water.

Some water treatment dealers try to make a softener the answer to just about any water treatment problem, but the water treatment dealers of tomorrow will have to be more than one-trick ponies if they hope to thrive.

Conventional wisdom has been that a softener provides universal benefits and can pay for itself, so it can be sold to just about anyone in any region of the country.

But the public is becoming much more conscious of their water quality, and their concerns are bound to continue extending beyond just water hardness.

Expect customers of tomorrow to ask tough questions about how you can solve their problems with DBPs and pipe leaching, and to expect detailed answers about the minerals you are putting in their water — and the minerals you are taking out.

DBPs and pipe leaching will provide two of the great universal water treatment opportunities of tomorrow, and the dealers and suppliers will have to work together to bring appropriate technologies to market.

The dealer and supplier markets have occasionally been resistant to new technologies, but as our market changes we must keep an open mind to new technologies designed to address new and growing treatment challenges.

Roy Bowers is president of Nevada-based Enprotec Corporation. Enprotec is a supplier of treatment systems to the POU/POE market.

www.watertechonline.com

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